There is a romance that surrounds coffee, an Italian classical soundtrack, steam dancing from the ceramic cup that nestles snugly in your hand while you languidly brush the flaky croissant crumbs from the morning’s headlines. And there is a charm surrounding the artifice of the barista, a skilled craftsperson working with their hands, being at one with the coffee, and using simple alchemy – turns these seeds of vitality into liquid gold. Through our coffee coloured glasses these baristas grind the coffee, feeling the weight in their hands, checking the grind by rubbing it through their fingers. They are behind gilded lever pull machines, and stringently monitor the pour, never taking their eyes from the caramel flow, until they sense the perfect moment to pull the shot away and deliver the perfect, hand crafted, artisanal espresso. 

This romantic picture of the mechanics of coffee is about as realistic as Pretty Woman, Notting Hill and Roman Holiday is to the mechanics of relationships.

Coffee made on quaint, 1970’s espresso machines is charming. Digital scales and pre-programmed volumetrics are not. But do you know what makes delicious coffee everytime in a busy cafe? Digital scales and pre-programmed volumetrics. This is real life baby!

Setting up your volumetrics at the beginning of your shift is integral to making sure the coffee you’re serving stays super tasty consistently all day. And it also lets the machine do the exacting work of calculating how many milligrams of water are flowing through the group head. As much as we baristas would love to believe we have Superman vision when it comes to extracting espresso, the hard truth is your espresso machine does it with much more accuracy than the human eyeball. 

But never fear! Your worth as a barista is much more than looking at liquid flowing out a spout – volumetrics do not make you obsolete. You are still in charge of how to utilise the volumetrics to get the best out of the coffee. You are in charge of tweaking the recipe in those first moments of the morning as you dial in. You are signing off on the dose and yield. You are finessing the machine to yield to your coffee desires. You are important! 

As mentioned, when you dial in the volumetrics you are dictating how much water you want pumping through the group head, or dictating how much espresso you yield. It’s a vertex of the golden triangle of coffee recipes, and a measurable indicator of whether the recipe is staying on track throughout the day.

Let’s say you start the day with the recipe 20g coffee in (the dose), 50g out (the yield), in 30 seconds (the time…). You will have adjusted the volumetrics for this recipe so that every time you dose 20g into the portafilter at the same grind size under the same tamp pressure, and press that little button, you will extract 50g of coffee in 30 seconds! And wouldn’t you know it, that shot will taste the same as it did this morning. And in that 30 seconds, you will have full confidence that with your back turned as you prep the milk, the next shot, or high five your favourite customer you haven’t seen for a month while they’ve jaunted around the Greek Islands without you, that your espresso is also travelling along just fine, also without you.

So use the volumetrics to your advantage, as the wizards wand is to their wizardry, so are the programmed buttons to a barista. 

And remember, there is one thing, the most important thing the volumetrics can’t do without you, and that is be you. No one can create a recipe, communicate the beauty of a coffee, or cultivate the vibe of the cafe, man, anything like you can. You’re the real love story.